Sleepovers With Uncle Jeff

The cardiologist traded on his status as a doctor to fondle young girls

"Sometimes, doing justice means doing something that's difficult to do, like dismissing a case. Sometimes, dismissing a case is justice."

— Harris County prosecutor Suzanne Hanneman

"I think it was kind of an embarrassment to our town and our...judicial system, too. If you can molest three [girls]... and you can pay $2,000 a piece, well, that's not bad."

In a picture dated 2001, the girls dressed in Beth's lingerie, (left to right) the cousin who recanted, Ashlyn, Brea and Randee.
In a picture dated 2001, the girls dressed in Beth's lingerie, (left to right) the cousin who recanted, Ashlyn, Brea and Randee.

— Larry Wyche, former New Life ­Tabernacle member

It was supposed to be a package deal.

Although Klem was initially charged with indecency with a child, a ­second-degree felony which mandates sex offender status, prosecutors and defense lawyers worked out a deal whereby Klem would plead up to a first-degree felony (injury to a child) to avoid registering as a sex offender.

The charge carries a stiffer penalty, but sentencing was deferred for ten years. Waylon Thompson, the prosecutor who helped helm the deal, likes to point out that Klem has a "tremendous hammer" hanging over his head. One slipup, and he could face 99 years in prison.

But Klem also had charges pending in Harris County, where he allegedly touched Ashlyn and Randee McDaniel at an apartment he kept while at a fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine. During the plea process, Thompson and Klem's defense attorneys talked with Houston prosecutor Suzanne Hanneman to see if Klem could be offered the same deal here.

Thompson believed the victims and their families were satisfied with the plea, and Hanneman saw no reason why things should be any different in Houston.

"Honestly, that was kind of my thought before I met [the girls] — you know, maybe, heck, just let him do what he's doing in Beaumont and let him go..." Hanneman says.

Everyone was on board, except for the one person who mattered the most. When Hanneman approached District Judge Mary Lou Keel with the possibility of offering the same plea, Keel shot it down.

"Disingenuous, is what she said," Hanne­man says of Keel. "My judge said that the pleadings in Beaumont were disingenuous. Because...he's admitting the conduct without having the ramifications. And the biggest ramification, of course, being the registering aspect of it."

Hanneman says that she would be satisfied with a plea to indecency by exposure, whereby Klem would register as a sex offender for ten years. But without a clear shot at a plea, Hanneman gave Ashlyn and Randee the options: They could agree to dismiss the charges, or they could go to trial. The girls chose the latter.

Hanneman says she warned the girls and their parents that, in Harris County, juries can be overly impressed with defendants who are doctors.

"Honestly, I don't see a jury doing anything other than probation," she says.

Even the victims and their families look at Klem almost as a man blessed with otherworldly gifts. Lawyers representing Klem in both the criminal and civil cases laud his medical abilities. Robert Pelton, one of Klem's criminal defense attorneys, says he's received around 150 letters from patients who swore Klem saved their lives. When asked if that meant they were actually flatlining on an operating table and Klem manually massaged their hearts back to life, or if they simply did not die during or after an office visit, Pelton said he hadn't read the letters that closely.

Despite his reputation among the folks at New Life Tabernacle, Klem's profile with the Texas Medical Board does not indicate an especially distinguished career.

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in 1995, he spent a three-year residency at Yale School of Medicine, followed by a four-year fellowship at Baylor. Klem's profile lists no real awards, honors, publications or academic appointments. Instead, Klem has listed the fact that he made honor roll for six semesters. Other career highlights include listings in Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities and Strathmore's Who's Who, which lists the names of an elite society of people with addresses, a few hundred bucks for a Strathmore membership and, presumably, a pulse.

Even Jefferson County District Judge John Stevens, in his admonishment of Klem, seemed to state that it is really disheartening when extra-important people turn out to be pedophiles.

"You have been blessed with a lot of good things, and those who have been blessed with things also carry a higher responsibility of conducting themselves," Stevens said, according to the pleadings transcript. "Much more is expected from people like you who have been blessed."

Judge Stevens: "Are you pleading guilty in this case voluntarily?"

Klem: "Yes, sir."

Judge Stevens: "And because you are guilty?"

Klem: "Yes, sir."

— Plea hearing, Aug. 14, 2007

"Sometimes people plead to things because they are guilty, and sometimes people plead guilty to things because the risk of pleading not guilty is too great."

— Robert Pelton, Klem's criminal defense attorney

When Klem married Judy Elizabeth Treadway in 2000, he pretty much hit the jackpot.

The apple of Buck Treadway's eye, Beth was beautiful and vibrant. Unlike her sister Kathie, whom Buck had publicly rebuked years earlier for dating men not up to Buck's standards, Beth seemed to do no wrong. Buck ultimately welcomed Kathie and her daughter back into the family after she married a Pentecostal pastor, but it was Beth who married a doctor. (Beth, who is not named in the civil lawsuit, did not return several messages left for her by the Houston Press.)

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